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Do We Really Swallow Spiders? and Other Modern Myths
Do we Really Swallow Spiders?
And Other Modern Myths
Someone famously said that “a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” That someone is variously claimed to be Mark Twain or Winston Churchill so, ironically, at least one version of this fact is actually a lie itself. It just goes to show how quickly myths, urban legends and false ideas can spread around. Nowadays, when the internet allows something to be available to almost everybody in the world within minutes of being written, they spread even faster. People are still used to the idea that if they “read something somewhere” it's probably been at least roughly checked in order to get published, but on the internet that's not necessarily true. Chain emails and “1000 fact” type websites can be powerful tools to spread information, but not all of them are as accurate as they claim. Here are three urban legends in common currency, and the real facts behind them.
Myth One: Human Beings eat An Average of 7 Spiders in their Sleep During A lifetime
You may well have heard this idea being thrown around all over the place: apparently we unwittingly swallow a steady diet of spiders in our sleep. As our mouths loll open, passing arachnids find themselves strangely compelled to crawl in, where we cheerfully gulp them down without knowing. Makes you shudder doesn't it? Well before you start wearing a surgical mask to bed, you'll be pleased to hear that this is just an urban legend.
Over the past few years, the idea has been trotted out all over the internet and beyond. Some sources say the average is seven in an entire lifetime, while others insist it's eight in a single year. Even the lowest estimates are significantly higher than the true figure – zero.
Although it apparently stretches back further, most of this urban legend's spread is a product of the internet age. A very deliberate product, as it happens – it was put online specifically to show how quickly false information could spread on the internet. Way back in 1993, when the web was young, a PC Professional columnist named Lisa Holst wrote an article about how many false facts where circulating on the internet. To prove how readily they were believed and passed on, she deliberately put out a load of made-up trivia and watched it spread. One of these was the spider myth, taken from an old 1950s book of bug-based folklore. Appropriately, the spiders thrived on the web, and she found it took off much faster than even she had expected. It became one of the most widely-quoted urban legends on the whole internet, and spread offline to appear in books of trivia and even national newspapers.
Myth Two: Water Is Transparent
No. It's blue.
But surely that's the wrong way around! Yes, it can look blue, but that's just because it reflects the sky, isn't it? Well yes and no.
Water only ever manages to appear blue when it reflects the sky, but scientists have looked beyond what we see with the naked eye. It turns out, water is tinted just slightly blue on its own. Yes, water has a color after all, and it just happens to be the same one it takes on by illusion.
This is an especially interesting myth because an awful lot of people started believing the right thing but for the wrong reasons, at least when they were children. They thought that water was blue, but now most people know that it was just reflecting the sky. Therefore, they also “know” that it's really perfectly clear.
Of course, since it seems so obviously transparent (barring impurities) unless you happen to have access to specialist equipment, nobody can be blamed for believing this particular myth. But this is still notable as one of the few cases where a well-known myth turns out to be true after all. At the risk of giving out headaches, the idea that this is a myth is, actually, a myth!
Myth Three: “Golf” Originally Stood for “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.”
This myth is definitely untrue. Making words from acronyms is a fairly modern invention, and started long after the name “golf” came into common use. If there was any doubt, the earliest written record is a Scottish statute written in 1457, which spells the word “gouf.” Unless medieval Scots had a very interesting way of spelling “ladies” (which they didn't), this particular origin story is just an urban legend.
Nobody's completely sure where the word did come from, though, and the same can be said of the game itself. The vast majority of historians agree that modern golf is a fifteenth century Scottish invention, but where it came from at the very start has been lost to the ages. Earlier golf-like games have been recorded everywhere from the Netherlands to China. Which of these, if any, is the true ancestor of the game we know is anyone's guess. As for the word “golf” itself, one common theory is that it comes from the Scots word “Goulf” which roughly means “to hit.” Given that the word is so appropriate, and that the modern game and the first recorded use of it's name both come from Scotland, this does seem a pretty convincing theory. The word “goulf” itself may itself be derived from the dutch “kolf,” meaning a club, bat or similar instrument. Some still believe that Holland may be the true birthplace of the game, too.